Hot Take: The Arts Are Equally as Important as STEM

Yes, you read that right. And yes, I’m talking about doctors, engineers, coders, architects, painters, musicians, writers and everything in between. And yes, this is coming from a Business student who is also a STEM student and an artist. Anyone in university is well aware of the preconceived notion that certain majors, career paths or areas of focus are “worthless” or lack intrinsic value. Here’s why that’s a baseless claim:

1. Our Definition of “Worth” is Subjective

Usually, the main argument against the Arts is something along the lines of “compare the salaries of an engineer to a pianist, obviously, one is valued more.” The problem with this flawed methodology is: (1) you’re defining worth as monetary compensation (which can lead to a slippery slope of lifetime dissatisfaction) and (2) this doesn’t always hold true. Basing your idea of success off of salary is a dangerous mindset - it almost always leads to a willingness to decrease your life satisfaction or happiness in exchange for more money. While happiness = money for some, it’s been proven that after a set income, money truly can’t buy happiness.

Beyond this, making more money simply doesn’t imply higher worth - let’s break this down. We can all agree that front-line workers were an essential part of our society this year - from nurses to EMTs, to janitors, to the truck drivers that supplied essential items, all hold a dear place in our hearts. And yet these people remain some of the most underpaid, while celebrities made millions. If you’re defining monetary compensation as “worth,” essential workers should be millionaires, no?

2. There are Different Ways to Measure Intelligence

The other argument tends to follow a thought pattern similar to “well, it’s harder to learn how to code than write, STEM is naturally harder, that’s why not a lot of people enter into the field.” Now, a lot of this coincides with my previous point. While a lot of people have a genuine interest in the STEM field, some pursue this area simply because: (1) they know it’s a lucrative field (2) they worry they won’t find a job if they pursue something else, and (3) they know they don’t like business.

Additionally, intelligence can be measured in more ways than one. As a math major, being able to derive complex formulas and prove theories is an incredible skill, but as an artist, being able to accurately match a colour to a reference picture and create works of art that make people happy is another. Logical thinking, problem-solving, empathy, creativity, etc. are all signs of intelligence, and can’t be boxed into one area of study. Researching and creating a vaccine requires incredible amounts of creativity and creating a Netflix Original Series requires a plethora of logical thinking. Boxing in our ideas of intelligence to stereotypes does nothing but limit people.

3. The Arts & STEM are the two sides of the same coin

By this, I mean that they co-exist in harmony together. Your love for the City of Toronto was bred by the collaboration of Engineers and Architects alike. The buildings where you love to take your Instagram pictures required intensive artist input and structural input in order to stand where they are today. The online shopping websites you wasted your money on were coded by engineers, but, the UX/UI designers are what made your experience enjoyable. In essence, we need both for a functioning society.

One of the easiest ways to demonstrate my point here is with COVID-19. This pandemic left most of us miserable and distraught, struggling to cope with sudden change. There’s no denying the role of STEM here: doctors who sacrificed their well-being to ensure patient safety, great minds working together to develop a vaccine, and research after research on the effects of this pandemic. But I’m sure not many of us realized how important the Arts were. The Netflix you binged to keep you sane in lockdown, the music you listened to that reduced your anxiety, the baking you did to distract yourself, the TikTok obsession you developed to cope, re-learning an old instrument you had forgotten and more. If there’s one thing for certain, we needed it all to get through this year.